I take Esplanade all the way to City Park, one of the largest urban parks in the country, for several miles of winding trails through live oaks and to trace the beautiful Bayou St. John on the Wisner bike path. You’re likely to meet up with riders from NOLA Social Ride here, a growing group of cyclists who meet for fast-paced races in the park on Wednesdays, and slower, novice-friendly rides in a new neighborhood each Thursday. After looping the park I follow the bayou all the way to the Jefferson Davis Parkway Trail, which goes by Bayou Bicycles, a great place to pick up fun accessories or shop for a new ride. I might stop in at Parkway Bakery and Tavern across the Bayou for one of the best po’boys in town – possibly the perfect fuel for a long ride – or take a short detour to Finn McCool’s Irish Pub for fish and chips and a pint.
The Jeff Davis Trail provides a safe way across the interstate and into uptown, so I cut over to South Carrollton Avenue. There’s a new bike lane here, and since it was installed, bike traffic has increased by over 200 percent. Carrollton connects to Oak Street, the city’s first “Complete Streets” project, and there are several new bike racks on every block of restaurants, shops and cafés. The city passed a Complete Streets ordinance in late 2011 thanks to the Sustainable Transportation Advisory Committee.
To get back downtown, I take Freret Street past the lush campus of Tulane University and through another newly revitalized neighborhood corridor that caters to cyclists. Stop in at Dat Dog and grab a serious frankfurter or snag a fresh, healthy take on the city’s iconic snowball at Beaucoup Juice nearby, next to The Bike Shop. Uptown, the cyclists include a mix of college kids, families en route to car-free fun rides in Audubon Park or on the Mississippi River Levee Trail.
Finally, I cut down to Saint Charles Avenue and race a streetcar down the city’s most famous boulevard. Recent counts conducted by the University of New Orleans found that on some corridors leading to the CBD from uptown, bikes constitute upwards of 20 percent of all daily traffic, and ridership is growing rapidly every year. As my ride ends, I can’t help but reflect that there has never been a better time to be a bicyclist in New Orleans.
Tara Tolford is a nine-year NOLA devotee and an urban planner at the University of New Orleans Transportation Institute. She currently manages the Pedestrian Bicycle Resource Initiative, and rides her trusty Schwinn to restaurants, festivals, and Bicycle Second Lines all over the city. @PBRI_NewsFeed